Inside the complex and secretive world of rhino conservation, Adventure.com
In South Africa, two to three rhinos are killed by poachers every day. But there are pockets of hope—Holly Tuppen went to meet some of the brave individuals leading the charge.
If Thembinkosi has seen this all before, he’s not letting it dampen his enthusiasm.
“Look, in the sand,” he tells me. I do. It looks as if hundreds of little worms have wriggled and writhed the night away on a 30-centimeter patch of sand below our feet. “A rhino rolling on his back, probably this morning.” I run my hand over the marks, entranced.
Four of us have been tracking rhinos on foot since sunrise at Phinda Private Game Reserve, a 70,560-acre reserve in KwaZulu-Natal where seven ecosystems collide, hosting everything from crocs to cheetahs. Watching Thembinkosi (aka Mr T, assistant head tracker) at work is mesmerizing. He picks out our path, following where the rhinos have been chomping on grass, breaking branches, and even offloading on a midden, a communal pile of rhino dung that functions like ‘rhino Facebook’—spreading rhino gossip.
After nearly two hours, Thembinkosi’s hand shoots up, and we all stop in our tracks. The atmosphere changes and adrenaline rises.
Less than 10 meters from where we stand are two huge rhino bulls. They’ve heard us approach, ears spinning and back legs crunching on branches in the thick bush.
Having watched with bated breath for 10 minutes, we slowly retreat. The first thing that strikes me is how formidable these creatures are—gentle, yet powerful. The second is how desperate anyone would have to be to kill them for profit.
On Monday 25th March 2019, two weeks after my rhino encounter, a Durban magistrate convicted three men of shooting a rhino. When they were arrested in 2009, they were found with a rifle, blood-soaked axes, and a pair of rhino horns in the back of their pick-up truck. The men delayed their trial by 10 years after dismissing and employing up to 25 defense lawyers. It sounds unbelievable, but for those working in conservation in South Africa, it’s a common frustration.
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